Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cold Spell

Click the pix for larger picture.

We have been experiencing a cold spell.  While the most of the country is freezing to the north and west, we have been getting night time lows around 50 degrees, with a brisk wind out of the northwest.   It has been getting into the high 50’s during the day.  A nice November day back home, but when you live in concrete apartments with no central heating, it makes my nose run.  I had to stay in my teacher’s apartment last night, because of my early class this morning.  It has all the heat retention properties of a mailbox.
My 7:45 class were hunched in their seats, rocking back and forth to stay warm.  Actually 50 bodies can warm a room up noticeably.  After climbing 5 flights of stairs I had warmed to a tolerable state and I took my coat off which brought gasps from the huddled mass, but these are kids who have never seen snow, and who put on sweaters at 70 degrees.
On some days, our entire section of the school are required to go out on the grounds for a massive bout of calisthenics.   It’s an impressive show, with thousands of uniformed kids moving more or less in unison to music and commands blasting from tinny loudspeakers.
Their days are very structured and start early.  At 7:45 the kids are already in their classrooms studying, or doing English drills.  They go until  5:00, and after dinner there are structured study halls, and other activities, none of which are designed to be fun.  A school dance is unheard of .  The plus side of this is that  there are few opportunities for teen mischief, let alone drug use, drinking and driving or getting knocked up.
Jobs like landscaping, toilet cleaning, class cleaning, trash collection, and general clean up are the students’ responsibilities.  Classes rotate work days, each getting a day where they are responsible for cleaning.  They are also responsible for their own classrooms.  There is a vast difference in the classrooms’ cleanliness, orderliness, and general atmosphere.
The classes are divided by test scores,  with the highest score, 38 having the students who got the best test scores.  There is a lot of pride in the top classes, and they are neater and cleaner than the rest.  The students also have a different uniform, and these are in better condition.  The better the class’s grades, the higher they are in the building.  If you get good scores you have to walk up 6 flights of stairs.
The top classes are very well behaved, but not necessarily the best English speakers.  Since the ranking is strictly because of test scores, speaking ability is not a factor.  Also a lot of the top students have come from “the countryside”.  Rural schools do not have good English programs.  They are very good students, though.  I really try to not paint a rosy picture of the good life in American high schools.  I think it would break the kids’ hearts seeing spoiled American kids living the “good life”, even though the good life is not doing that great a job of preparing them for the real life.